Threatened species in, disability role out
SYDNEY, July 2 AAP – The blind golden sun moth and the legless lizard have been given a new federally funded commissioner – just as disabled Australians are losing theirs.
Long-time public servant and passionate conservationist Gregory Andrews has been appointed Australia’s threatened species commissioner in the same week controversial budget cuts mean disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes is packing up his office.
“It’s a bit ironic isn’t it? In the same week that one commissioner is disappearing, another one for threatened species is being created,” Mr Innes said in his farewell address to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“I could mount an argument fairly effectively that people with a disability are a threatened species: 45 per cent of us are in poverty and we’re 30 per cent less employed.”
Mr Andrews will help co-ordinate government programs worth $2 billion, including an ambitious attempt to end native mammal extinctions by 2020.
“I named my son Noah because Noah saved all the animals,” Mr Andrews told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
Australia has the worst extinction rate in the world: 10 per cent of Australia’s native land mammals have become extinct since European settlement.
While most environmental groups have welcomed the appointment as a good first step, some are questioning whether the role has enough teeth.
Law group Environmental Justice Australia CEO Brendan Sydes says the framework is fundamentally flawed because federal funding is not guaranteed beyond the first year and is not enshrined in law.
“The independence of the role is compromised, with the axe poised to strike as soon as the commissioner takes any position the government disagrees with,” he said in a statement.
“The government is under no obligation to accept any recommendations from the commissioner anyway.”
Mr Andrews will begin work on the priorities for the Action Plan for Australian Mammals, also launched on Wednesday.
WWF national manager for species Darren Grover said Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s verbal commitment to eradicating feral animals was encouraging.